My mother was an only child so her parents came to spend Christmas with us every year while I was growing up. No matter how much preparation my mother had done, Christmas never officially started until my grandparents arrived on Christmas Eve. They brought armloads of gifts, endless (and delicious!) Christmas baking, and basically just a whole lot of excitement.
When we would go to bed that night, my father would always dictate that my brothers and I had to stay in bed the next morning until 7:00 a.m., an excruciating and nearly impossible time for three very excited kids.
My grandparents always slept in the basement and, invariably, this would be how Christmas morning unfolded. My grandfather would wake up sometime before 5:00 a.m. and start getting fidgety. He was a big man but he was really just a big kid in disguise. My grandmother would wake up and say, “Douglas, it’s too early. Go back to sleep.”
He never once was able to go back to sleep.
Gramps would finally get up around 5:00 a.m. We would hear the creaks as he came up the stairs and then the sound of him settling into the big easy chair in the far corner of the living room, where he would sit quietly and just patiently wait. Around 6:30 a.m., we could wait no longer and we’d burst down the hall to go wish him Merry Christmas. Dad would always demand that we go back to bed until 7:00 a.m. but our trump card was Gramps. Dad would usually concede defeat at that point and leave us be.
My grandfather never lost the joy and excitement of Christmas. He loved watching us upend our stockings and exclaim with delight over every single thing… even the apple and orange that were invariably found in the toe. He always helped my grandmother with all the Christmas baking, played the piano and led us all in singing Christmas carols, and never grew tired of watching us open our presents and showing him all the ins and outs of the various toys we received.
When the question of Santa Claus came up, I remember Gramps emphatically stating “of course, there’s a Santa Claus! It’s the spirit of Christmas that lives in everyone’s heart.” I have never forgotten his words, and I have never forgotten what they mean.
Christmas is first and foremost the celebration of Jesus’ birth but, beyond that, it’s about generosity towards others. Generosity can take a lot of forms. It can mean giving things but it can also mean giving our time, our talents, our listening ear, our sympathy, our understanding, our caring, and our love. Peace and goodwill to all mankind. As long as we genuinely give from the heart.
I would like to think that the spirit of Christmas should permeate our lives to the point that it extends all year round. It doesn’t have to start December 1st and end January 1st. If anything, the Christmas season is perhaps a reminder that we tend to lose that spirit throughout the year and is a prompt to help us get back on track.
I’ve done some volunteer work this year, which I definitely plan to continue and hopefully expand on in 2014. But, helping others, giving to others, doesn’t have to be confined to volunteer work.
Just yesterday, for example, I took a walk at the end of the day and happened upon a guy whose car was badly stuck in heavy snow. A neighbor had just run over to help push but they needed more than him. The passenger’s side window was down and I noticed the guy behind the wheel was probably a foot taller than me and solidly built. So I asked if it would help if I sat behind the wheel so that he could help push with the other guy, and he agreed. It took a few tries but the car finally came free.
I can’t tell you how good it felt to be part of that.
We all having the ability to make a difference every single day of our lives. Seemingly small things like motioning to another car to merge into traffic in front of you, opening a door for someone who’s elderly or who has children or who’s burdened with parcels, smiling and wishing someone a great day, shoveling the walkways and decks for your landlord (which I did a couple of days earlier this week) or sending someone a quick note to say you’re thinking about them or praying for them.
A whole lot of little things can add up to make a big difference. If we commit to keeping our eyes open to the endless possibilities around us to help, to give, to encourage, to build up, to stand alongside others – and then do something about it as much as we’re able to – our world will be a much better place.
The change that I want to see is the change that begins with me.
I’m want to be Joy to the world… in my world. In this Christmas season and beyond to 2014.
Now that’s the spirit…